A Tried and True Strategy
Numbered Heads – Spencer Kagan (AkA: Prep your Rep)
I’ve used this strategy as both a classroom teacher and a math coach. All you need is a deck of cards and a dry erase marker
- Students are in groups
- Each group is given a number
- Each student in the group is assigned a number.
- I’ll write the numbers in the corner of their desk with the dry erase marker.
- Create two piles of cards.
- Pile 1: Group numbers.
- If you have 9 groups, then you should have cards Ace – 9
- Pile 2: Individual numbers
- If you have 3 students in a group, this pile should have cards A – 3
- Pile 1: Group numbers.
Explaining the Process
This past year, our coaching team added a new member, Karon. She referred to this strategy as “Prep your Rep”. I love this phrase and the message it sends. To me, the act of prepping your rep bonds the group members – All for one and one for all.
When I use this strategy in a class for the first time, I do the following:
- To avoid confusion, I call out each group number and the group members raise their hands.
- I then call out each individual number and ask each student assigned that number to raise their hands.
- Me: Your group will be given a task/question to work on. It is the group’s responsibility to make sure each member can add to the whole group conversation.
- Me: I’ll be using the numbers to randomly call on people. (I then pick a card from each pile). I pulled a 5 from the group pile and a 2 from the individual pile. Who is group 5 seat 2? (student raises hand). Leilani, you’ll represent your group and therefore start the whole discussion
During Group Time….
- As groups are working, I circulate around the room listening to conversations and asking questions.
- I tend to ask a quieter member to share the groups conversation with me. The group’s extrovert often starts talking, but I’ll stop him/her. It’s crucial to get all students practicing mathematical language in their small group environment.
- If a student is unable to answer my questions, I’ll remind the group of their task – to prepare all members for the whole group discussion. Me: “Prep your rep. I’ll be back in a minute to check in on your progress.”
- If you say, you’ll check back with a group, you must check back with the group.
- It keeps the group accountable.
- It provides an opportunity to give feedback on the groups collaboration skills.
- Prior to the whole group discussion, I’ll give a reminder. Me: You have 30 second to wrap up. Make sure your rep is prepped.
Whole Group Discussion
- I randomly pick the group and student to kick off the discussion.
- Phrases I use: Please,
- Share what your group talked about
- Share a strategy your group used
- From there, I use a variety of strategies depending on the feel of the class.
- I ask the other group members follow up questions
- I randomly pick again to hear from another group
- If the randomly picked student is unable to start the discussion, then I’ll give the group a chance to reconvene and prep their rep. During this time, I’ll move on with the discussion but will check back with the group.
- It’s crucial to return. Why?
- Accountability. Math class is not a passive experience. Students must engage in order to learn.
- Growth mindset – Typically the group pulls together to support their representative – an action that should be highlighted and encouraged. All for one and one for all.
- An initial negative situation turns positive and students feel good about stepping up to the challenge.
- Students need to learn how to work together, therefore I vary the length of tasks.
- I often give groups 1, 2 or 3 minutes to discuss a topic prior to randomly calling on a student to start the conversation.
- These shorter tasks …
- develop collaboration skills
- strengthen group discussion stamina
- break up the lesson and allow for processing time
- allow students to practice academic language
- With longer tasks, I’ll incorporate a whole group check in discussion.
- Keeps students moving forward on the assignment
- Establishes a time to clear up any misconceptions
- Allows for students to practice academic language and process verbally the topic in question